Read to the end for a conversation with The Washington Post's Taylor Lorenz
Men Online Are Mad Again
Gamergate, for the uninitiated, was a 4chan-led hate movement that started in 2014 with a blog post written by a scorned ex-boyfriend that was weaponized by the far-right and laid a lot of the groundwork for the Trump campaign and their digital army of angry young men. It started with video games, but by 2017, there was a “-gate” movement for every pocket of fandom. But Gamergate, unlike the Trump administration, has never really been acknowledged by popular culture, though a few recent movies have tried, including the newest Scream movie, which I found kind of interesting. (By the way, this is not me saying that pop culture has commented on the Trump era well, just that it has commented on it.)
American pop culture has, instead, tried very hard to pretend Gamergate didn’t happen, even though there probably isn’t a single woman, person of color, or queer person working in video games, animation, or fandom media that isn’t deeply aware of it. Why? Well, I think the main thing is that the men who were sucked into Gamergate are both too normal and too pathetic simultaneously to grapple with. The idea that so many adult American men could care that deeply about the reviews of video games and anime is almost too bleak to really psychologically process. Also, I suspect a lot of entertainment companies know that they need to keep that toxic ball of male fandom happy because they can keep selling them toys. But in the 2010s, we did have a lot of half-swings, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi being one of the bigger ones, in which the leader of space ISIS is exposed as being a whiny incel Redditor. Good stuff.
But because there is no central cultural consensus for Gamergate, it has continued to fester, particularly on Reddit and Twitter. And one of its more lingering effects is the squealing chorus of “no politics” from weird internet men the minute they suspect their man-child-coddling entertainment franchises — or the media that covers them — might be trying to make some broader point about the society happening outside of their living rooms. But, in lieu of any big attempts at addressing Gamergate’s legacy head on, instead, it does feel like many corners of fandom have decided to just move on. And these attempts at leaving the radicalized men behind appear to be getting more frequent.
In the last few weeks alone, the verified Star Wars account, off the back of a harassment campaign against one of the franchise’s actors of color, had to literally explain to fans that it’s a franchise about, you know, war, which is inherently political. The subreddit for Amazon’s The Boys is in a total meltdown over a recent episode that depicted a Blues Lives Matter-supporter superhero violently assaulting black people. Gamergate subreddits are blaming the low box office haul for Disney’s Lightyear on the fact it features a same-sex kiss. And Marvel fans, for whom streaming data and ticket sales are lines that can only ever go up, never down, lest their faith in mega-producer Kevin Feige is questioned, are tearing themselves apart over the low viewership ratings for Ms. Marvel. I’ve also seen multiple Reddit posts from concerned Marvel fans about how to watch the show with their friends without having to care about the “politics” of the show. But as often as these flare-ups have been happening, they don’t feel as culturally seismic as they did even five years ago. Instead, it all just feels annoying.
It feels like their screeching is slowly becoming less powerful. In fact, I came across a recent post on the reactionary Star Wars subreddit r/SaltierThanCrait full of users basically admitting they were giving up on Star Wars for good (lol). And it does kind of feel like the companies, showrunners, writers, and creators behind these movies and TV shows are becoming slightly more vocal about telling all of these guys to fuck off. Which is, you know, kind of nice!
We might never face the Gamergate era head on. We might not get the big Adam McKay-directed r/KotakuInAction movie (which is maybe a good thing tbh), but, at the very least, it does feel like we’re getting slightly better at laughing at, and then promptly ignoring, these guys when they crawl out of the woodwork now. A lot of these users see themselves as the hero of their own lame culture war, others see themselves as some scary misunderstood anti-hero or villain, but maybe the best thing we can do is make sure they know what they really are. Which is just a punchline.
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Finally, A Damn Tumblr Book
I’ve started experimenting, lately, with saying “I’m a writer” when being asked what it is I do for a living. This doesn’t really cover it, of course, but it does make me feel really cool. At least, for a second, until whoever I’m talking to goes on to ask, “what kind of writing do you do?” and I have to start saying some shit about internet memes and fandom and immediately sink in my interlocutor’s estimation. Or at least that’s my fear, but I know it’s an irrational one — because the fact is, internet culture writing is actually really important.
Kaitlyn Tiffany’s new book out this month, Everything I Need I Get From You, is a book I feel like I’ve been impatiently waiting to exist for years and years. I was extremely validated by one of her press interviews in which she says she was frustrated by all the books about male-dominated internet cultures like 4chan and Something Awful that were dropping a few years ago. I remember having the same exact thought. Where is the damn Tumblr book? I said, to anyone who would listen. And now at last there is one — the first of many, I hope!
After many years subsisting on a combination of short-form online fandom journalism (much of it very good) and dense, academic fan studies texts (much of it also very good!) it thrilled me to dive into a full-length book that described things from the inside, from a viewpoint originating in fannish emotion yet grounded in research. It helped that I was coming into the book with some peripheral familiarity with the community she’s narrating, as well as a past specifically in band/music fandom myself. But I think anyone who has been swept up in a frenzied fan moment, or even observed one at a distance, will enjoy how Tiffany makes sense of it all, methodically but with great grace and humor.
An experience on the internet might be utterly sublime, in the bodily, Burkean sense: a sort of “negative pleasure” that incorporates terror and overwhelms all reason, making one incapable of rational thought, at least temporarily. Fandom experiences, especially! When it comes to these deranging and usually wildly subjective events we are in desperate need of people like Tiffany: chroniclers who as part of their role in a community keep track not only of what is happening but why. The young, predominantly female spaces that she so lovingly documents are constantly in the process of slow disintegration not only of their actual (virtual) contents, thanks to the goldfish memory of the platforms they play out on, but of the cultural context that those contents evolved amongst. Everything changes so fast. People jump ship to new communities, see their past as totally cringe, rush to wipe everything and start anew. Fan futures are important, yes, but so are fan histories. They can, as Everything I Need I Get From You shows so brilliantly, not just record, but make intelligent aesthetic judgments about their subjects, providing those in the throes of their own Directionesque endeavours a path through the disarray, and making sure vital memes and moments don’t get forgotten.
As Tiffany points out in the very subtitle of her book, fan cultures created the internet as we know it today: a truisum that I’m always eager to extend so far as to say that fan cultures are also creating the internet that we’ll know tomorrow. The moderator of the book’s release event at McNally Jackson last week, Kate Lindsay of Embedded, brought up the so-hot-right-now Broderickian concept of how “fandom” can be used as a lens to understand contemporary issues like right-wing populism and mass reactions to celebrity events. Which I’d be the first to agree with, obviously, but I would also like to argue that fandom shouldn’t require that broad application in order to be a worthy object of study all on its own. When I posed a question to the panel it was to ask them all what other fandom histories they’d like to see written and published, not necessarily by them. Someone mentioned Glee and someone else proposed a 1,000-page tome just on Nicki Minaj’s Barbz. I’d read them! I’d read all of them!!!!!
The Guys In Charge Just Do Not Get It
Last week, venture capitalist and Web3 evangelist Marc Andreessen went on economist Tyler Cowen’s podcast and was asked fairly directly what was good about Web3. You can watch the clip here. Well, Andreessen’s answer was actually so confusing and weird that it ended up on Reddit’s r/cringe. Whoops.
If you don’t feel like watching the clip, I’ll paraphrase. Andreessen basically argues that an online creator could use Web3 technology to sell products like NFTs or other digital assets or use cryptocurrency to support subscription payments. Cowen, very astutely, points out that none of those things are particularly revolutionary, nor do they even require crypto.
What I can’t figure out is whether Andreessen just doesn’t know what makes Web3 different than web 2.0 or if he just feels uncomfortable saying it out loud. As I see it, the one thing you can do more easily and more effectively with Web3 than you can with web 2.0 is connect virality to capital. You can make or latch on to some kind of crypto thing, create a viral frenzy around it, and then make a bunch of money off of it as it goes up in value, hopefully cashing in before it all goes bust. The problem with this is that what you’re basically describing is a ponzi scheme. But, nevertheless, that’s really the big innovation that Web3 provides.
Hilariously, one of the few people to manage to pull off this financial populism was Elon Musk. He was able to harness Twitter to pump Dogecoin last year to dizzying heights, before it crashed so hard it may have tanked the whole crypto market. And Musk is currently being sued for over $250 billion by an investor, who alleges the whole thing was pyramid scheme. Whoops.
Musk, however, when asked directly by a Twitter employee last week, why he wanted to buy the platform, had his own Andreessen moment and rambled about wanting to turn Twitter into WeChat for a while. There are a few American-made apps that could evolve into WeChat’s digital passport for everything, blending a messaging app with payment tools and public social updates, but I don’t think it’ll ever be Twitter.
So, to summarize: The guy who made a lot of money with web 2.0 is both obsessed with and seemingly doesn’t understand Web3 and the guy who made a lot of money with Web3 is both obsessed with and seemingly doesn’t understand web 2.0. Or both of these guys just don’t want to admit they want to use Twitter and cryptocurrencies to manipulate consumer investors to make a bunch of money. Anyways, as weird and confusing as both of these episodes were, I do think they’re good examples of why these kinds of guys should be asked basic questions more often!
A Good Video
New Reddit-Organized Social Movement Dropped
The r/fuckcars subreddit has been around for a while, but I’ve definitely noticed a huge uptick in attention around it. And the uptick around the “fuck cars” sentiment isn’t just happening on Reddit. For instance, search the phrase “walkable cities” on Twitter.
I’m a little curious if this turns into something like r/antiwork, which definitely had an implosion a few months ago, but is still pretty sizable. It’s sort of hard to articulate what kind of effect a subreddit like this can have long-term, but I do think subreddits are a more coherent way of organizing than, say, a hashtag or a TikTok trend. The subreddit system is sort of a mess, as I discussed at the top of today’s email, but I think that there’s a real utility for a bunch of people agreeing about something, making a landing page for that thing, and then having the subreddit as a place you can point to online where that consensus is happening.
This Weird Pikachu Man Is Haunting Tumblr
This is the Pikachu Man. He’s an official ad being run on Tumblr right now by Automattic, the company that owns the platform. Users believe they’re being tortured by Tumblr’s staff because of the frequency of Pikachu Man ads they’re getting on their dashboards. I’ve also seen a lot of Pikachu Man erotic fan fiction. It’s a mess.
As Twitter user @__femb0t recently tweeted, “The tumblr staff has been conducting psychological warfare on their user base by showing a series of increasingly horrifying ads culminating in Pikachu zentai man in order to convince them to buy the no-ads version and I cannot tell if this is evil or pure genius on their part.”
A Story From A Former AOL Instant Messenger Mod
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This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by thesupermikey. I can’t verify this is a real story, but I do think it’s worth checking out, one, because it’s funny, but, two, I think it’s important to remember that this was a real job! AOL had a Community Actions team and they were basically mods for the platform.
Right now a lot of older millennials love tweeting things like “bring back away messages” or “AIM was the best social network,” but all of that’s easy to say because it wasn’t a public network and there was definitely a lot of weird and nasty stuff happening on AIM at its peak. All that said, away messages probably should come back.
BONUS: Here’s Taylor Lorenz’s Biggest Pop Culture Blindspot
Everyone loves to ask the internet’s most-plugged in writers and creators questions like “what are you reading,” or “what’s in your bag,” or “what’s your money diary,” etc. So I decided to do something different: What aren’t you paying attention to?
I don’t think The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz needs any introduction, but on the off-chance you somehow read Garbage Day, but don’t read her amazing work, she’s easily the biggest and best name in game when it comes to internet culture. I was super excited to have her involved with my new miniseries and her big pop culture blindspot she wanted to talk about was extremely fun. Find out after the paywall jump! (Hint: It involves wizards.)